Nov. 14, 2011
Life's Up in the Air for Falcons' Marksman By Mick McGrane on November 11, 2011
Tim Jefferson can boast of being the all-time winningest quarterback in Air Force history. In men's basketball, no one in the Mountain West last season scored more points than Falcons' junior guard Michael Lyons.
As we honor our service men and women this Veteran's Day, let's talk about Pat Everson. But don't bother checking a boxscore. If you want to find Everson, look up. Way up.
While the accomplishments of athletes like Jefferson and Lyons are well-chronicled in the annals of Air Force athletics, it's unlikely that either will ever top the feat accomplished by Everson and 68 of his closest friends three months ago.
In August, 15,300 feet above Vance Brand Municipal Airport in Longmont, Colo., 69 skydivers leaped from planes in pursuit of a Colorado state record that organizer Jim McCormick had been chasing for three years. The previous record was 56.
Among the group who momentarily grasped hands in a "snowflake" formation that day were 12 current Air Force cadets, including Everson, a senior from Eagle River, Alaska, who has jumped out of airplanes nearly 350 times since arriving at the Academy.
"When you're jumping with that many people, the freefall isn't necessarily the dangerous part," Everson said. "It's once you open (your parachute) and you're under the canopy that you have a higher risk of colliding with someone else.
"One of the coolest sights I've ever seen was breaking off from the formation and turning around to see that many people who were in the air at the same time. It was a phenomenal feeling."
The kind of feeling one gets when they realize their true talents, when they begin to recognize the signposts along life's path. Growing up in Alaska, Everson was convinced that path included hockey. But when he came to the realization that his career as a goal scorer was on thin ice, he put down his stick.
In favor of a gun.
You see, while Pat Everson has a penchant for plummeting from airplanes, having mastered his craft at the only school in the world where the first five jumps are solo, unassisted freefall, he is also a member of the Academy's rifle team. The NCAA-sanctioned sport, which runs from October to March, is composed of two events: smallbore rifle and air rifle.
The smallbore event consists of shooting from a prone, off-hand and kneeling position. Shooters are given 20 shots from each position, with 10 points awarded for a bulls-eye. A perfect score is 600. The air rifle competition, which follows the same scoring system, is limited to the off-hand position.
Everson, who took up the sport in high school, was the Falcons' top shooter at last week's President's Trophy Match at Army, scoring an aggregate 1158 (573 smallbore, 585 air rifle). In a match held earlier this season at UTEP, he posted a personal bests with a 590 in the air rifle competition and an aggregate of 1161.
"I played hockey for about 10 years and I loved the physicality and the emotion that came with it," Everson said. "Obviously, riflery is a big shift from that. It's more about controlling yourself and not letting your emotions get the better of you. It was just something I had a knack for. I had more talent shooting than I did playing hockey. It just made more sense for me to put my efforts toward (riflery) if I was going to compete in an NCAA sport."
It also makes considerably more sense to keep one's arms and legs inside an airplane that is flying at 13,000 feet, the typical altitude from which Everson jumps during the course of his training at the Academy. Yet since earning his jump wings through the Academy's Airmanship 490 program in 2009, Everson, who has earned a United States Parachute Association coach rating to skydive with and instruct student skydivers, has made 347 jumps, a total of 4 hours, 40 minutes of freefall time.
"It was something that I've always wanted to do, but it's kind of taken me by surprise at how much it's become part of my life," said Everson, who has designs on becoming a test pilot. "The first time I did it I was absolutely scared. The hard part is being outside the plane and looking down and seeing nothing underneath you.
"But as soon as you're outside of the plane, it's completely different. Once you let go and you're in freefall, it doesn't feel like falling, it feels like flying. Unless you've done it, it's hard to understand. Skydiving is so much more than just falling; it's flying."
Which, in the end, isn't a bad skill to have at the Air Force Academy.
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